Brexit has been a source of stress and confusion for British and European citizens since voters passed the referendum in 2016. Lawmakers in the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) spent years negotiating new rules around trade and immigration, leaving many issues unresolved until days before the Brexit transition period ended on December 31, 2020.
Following the last-minute agreement in late 2020, challenges persist—especially for workers no longer able to freely travel between the UK and other European countries. Some UK professionals are denied boarding flights in Europe because they do not have work visas or permits. At the same time, the UK requires residents of the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein to obtain new Frontier Worker permits to legally travel to the UK for work.
Read on to find out how professionals and companies can navigate these two changes to post-Brexit business travel.
How UK Professionals Can Legally Travel to Europe for Business
UK professionals must follow a series of steps before legally traveling for business within the EU and non-EU European countries.
First, business travelers must meet the basic criteria required to travel from the UK to Europe. These requirements include:
- A passport less than 10 years old that won’t expire for at least six months
- Proof of healthcare, including a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) for traveling to any EU country, or country-specific insurance for Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein
- A return ticket and enough money to cover living expenses during the visit
Business travelers heading to Europe must now meet additional requirements. UK professionals are prohibited from spending more than 90 days of a 180-day period traveling for business in the EU. UK nationals traveling to multiple EU countries within a 180-day period must keep track of their total work days, as EU countries apply days collectively. For example, if a UK professional spent 45 days working in France and 46 days working in Germany, that professional exceeds the 90-day threshold.
Furthermore, travelers must carefully review the list of business activities that do not require a permit when traveling for business within the EU or non-EU European countries. According to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), UK workers do not need a permit to travel for the following activities:
- Meetings and consultations
- Technical, scientific, statistical, or marketing research
- Training seminars
- Trade fairs and exhibitions
- Engaging in business-to-business sales or negotiating purchases
- Technical product repair or service on products that consumers have already purchased
- Conducting tours or tourism operations
- Translation and interpretation services
Travelers must obtain a visa or work permit; however, if they are:
- Transferring from their company’s UK branch to a branch in another country—even temporarily
- Carrying out contracted work for a client in a country where their employer is not established
- Providing services as a self-employed person in another country
Despite the newly available information on legally traveling to Europe, UK professionals have encountered difficulties since the Brexit transition period ended. Donna Jones, Regional Operations Manager for TMC Corporate Traveller UK, says her clients have faced inconsistent enforcement of rules when flying from London. One day after one of Jones’ clients had no issues when flying to Budapest, another client on the same flight itinerary was told he needed a work permit to enter Hungary and was denied boarding.
Experts attribute the challenges to gray areas in the newly drafted laws. According to Robert Houchill, associate with London-based law firm Kingsley Namely, “Often a visitor’s planned activities do not fall neatly within the terms of the permitted activities, and it can be difficult to determine what is and is not allowed.” To overcome the lack of clarity surrounding travel permit requirements, HR and legal teams must carefully research individual countries’ visa and permit requirements.
Frontier Workers Permits: What EU Nationals Need to Know
New rules also exist for European professionals traveling to the UK for business; however, this process is more streamlined than for workers traveling in the other direction. These individuals must obtain a Frontier Worker permit.
The EU defines a Frontier Worker as an individual who works in one EU country but lives in another. Once the Brexit transition period ended, frontier workers lost the right to freely move from the EU to the UK for work purposes. The UK designed the Frontier Worker permit to enable these EU professionals to continue working inside the country after Brexit.
Professionals looking to qualify for a Frontier Worker permit must meet all of the following criteria:
- From the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein
- Currently live outside the UK
- Worked in the UK before December 31, 2020
- Worked in the UK at least once every 12 months since the first day of working in the country
Fortunately for prospective Frontier Workers, the application system is free and can be completed online. Applicants must also be aware of these additional considerations surrounding the permit:
- Irish citizens do not need to apply for the Frontier Worker Permit
- All currently eligible applicants must obtain the permit by June 30, 2021, to continue working in the UK
- To maintain eligibility, permit-holders must travel to the UK for work at least one day over every rolling 12-month period
- Residents of the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein who were not working in the UK before December 31, 2020, are ineligible for the Frontier Worker permit but can determine the visa they need to apply for by visiting the Immigration section of the UK government website.
Solve Every Immigration Challenge—From Brexit To Beyond
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